Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Contrastive Focus Capitalization: Nonstandard Usages of Capital Letters in Web-based English and their Capital-I Implications

Contrastive Focus Capitalization: Nonstandard Usages of Capital Letters in Web-based English and their Capital-I Implications

Josh Linden

Like most languages using the Roman alphabet, English has an upper- and lowercase form of each letter and several interconnected patterns governing their use. This paper explores the ways those patterns are changing in the age of the Internet and proposes a novel usage of sentence-internal capitalization called Contrastive Focus Capitalization (CFC). CFC mainly targets nouns and conveys a number of meanings related to legitimacy and givenness as well as drawing attention to the most prototypical or salient meaning as the intended one. This phenomenon is explored via analysis of a 2.2 million-word sample of GloWbE, the Corpus of Global Web-based English, consisting mainly of blog posts made by English speakers around the world. The related but distinct practice of capitalizing common nouns as if they were proper nouns is also discussed. It is found that the latter is more common, but both are used especially in American English. Observations are made about the scope and connotations of these forms of nonstandard capitalization and parallels are drawn to other, less orthography-dependent structures with similar meanings. These findings are then considered in the broader context of Internet-based language with the goal of examining the relationship between spoken language and written language in the Digital Age.

April 5, 2019 - Posted by | abstract


  1. This is another paper that I was highly intrigued by. With the teasing I have received for using spaces, periods, and capitals in my text messages, I am curious to see the extent of your research. I would love to read this paper if you are willing to share?

    Comment by Tabitha Trembley | April 5, 2019 | Reply

  2. As a person who grew up woth social media and digital communications, I am always interest in knowing how these societal juggernauts impact our language and ideas. Back in the dark ages of email and IM, capitalization, especially a word in full caps, denoted yelling or emphasis. Even relieving a message written in nothing buts caps had its own connotations and typically displayed passionate emotions such as anger or excitement. Do you think the incorporation of non-standard capitalization is a social means to make up for the more limited functions of typical punctuation? For instance, is sending something in all caps equivalent to sending the same message with an exclamation mark, or does it have its own meaning? Your paper seems interesting and I would like the chance to read it.

    Comment by Shannon McKeown | April 23, 2019 | Reply

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